On “Planned Obsolescence”

Two concerns of Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence interested me most:

1. Quality Control and Risk-Taking in a “Like-Aggregate” Online Culture
My roommate is a web content writer. In particular, he ghost-blogs for doctors to make sure their names appear atop Google results. This has resulted in both a work-at-home income stream that provides him with flexible hours to write fiction and in daily conversations between us (we share an at-home office) that go something like [Seth: “What are you working on?” Roommate: “Five articles on vasectomies, then I go back to that Calvino Prize piece”].

Similarly, my class often talks about how media consumption, cultural literacy, taste in general is attained, to which I generally ask, “How do you learn about the existence of media that someone you know has not already consumed?” This year, I’m one for three on the class bringing up journalism (career-wise, about four for twenty-five). Students seem to be aware of the mass-approval/view count/”like”-aggregated model of media priority, but they rarely seem to take issue with it. When I press the issue, they often press back. To them, this is a question about the tree in the abandoned forest.

So Fitzpatrick responds here to the concerns of quality control and “significance” determination within new academic models (page 139: “the mushiness of popularity as an arbiter of relevance”), but I’m not sure if she proposes any clear way to conquer what seems to be a very steep hill of this, and increasingly engrained way of looking at all media, if some of the models she suggests become the U-Publishing MO.

2. The University and In-House Scholarship
Fitzpatrick also discusses a need to reconsider the audience and distributor for academic scholarship, as she addresses the value of considering one’s own school contingency in writing and publishing. I’m concerned about a potential side effect of “bringing it home,” which is that it could homogenize departments around specific writing cultures and attitudes in scholarship. Is the idea of “dissensus” enough to combat this potential problem? To a certain degree, schools maintain specific scholarly identities related to the faculty, research, initiatives, etc. of the school, but to what degree does the suggestion to keep work within a institutional system from which it is made (and then move it into the global foray) serve as a limiter as much as it does an enabler? Fitzpatrick suggests that such in-house behaviors could provide a publicity role to publishing practices (173).

Some thoughts,